It seems it’s not that much fun being a teenager in South Korea.
Not only are lonely teens texting imaginary friends to tell them how sad they feel, but government-endorsed spyware which can monitor young people’s online activity and location is flourishing.
As the Associated Press reports, apps such as “Smart Sheriff” - which was was funded and developed by the South Korean government - have been downloaded over 480,000 times and that figure is only going to go up.
The reason? South Korea’s Korea Communications Commission are insisting that telecoms companies and parents ensure that Smart Sheriff (or one of the other apps with similar features to snoop on youngsters’ activities) are installed on any new smartphone used by someone aged 18 years old or less.
Of course, not everyone has a new smartphone - but the Associated Press reports that most South Korean schools are telling parents that they should install the software anyway.
One of the reasons why you might want an app like Smart Sheriff installed on your children’s phones is that it can control access to pornographic or adult websites, as well as block access to gambling apps. In addition, like many parental control services, it can control excessive internet usage by restricting access to particular hours of the day.
But some of the monitoring apps go further than that, says AP:
Some send a child’s location data to parents and issue an alert when a child searches keywords such as “suicide,” “pregnancy” and “bully” or receives messages with those words.
In short, the apps can look at every phrase the smartphone user searches for, every message that they send or receive, and can track the physical location of the owner.
Uncomfortable yet? Just remember that use of this software has been written into law in South Korea.
And if it’s for those 18 years old and younger today, why shouldn’t the authorities push it to be extended to older smartphone owners in future? Why not take over the microphone to listen to what is being said, or see what images are taken through the camera?
When will we see the authorities in other countries pushing for this kind of surveillance in, say, the fight against terrorism?
Once again, the perils of modern society where the majority of us are willingly carrying an electronic spy in our pocket are highlighted.
South Korea, of course, is a highly developed country when it comes to all things technology, and the government says that eight out of ten South Koreans aged 18 or lower own a smartphone.
Indeed, an astonishing 72% of elementary school children owned a smartphone in 2013, and that number is bound to have reached even higher in the time since. That’s an awful lot of young people whose privacy is being eroded.
If you’re a teenager in South Korea, maybe you would be smarter to wait until your 19th birthday before owning your first smartphone.